By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal returned to winning ways with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over West Brom at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The points were secured thanks to a penalty in each half from Mikel Arteta – the first controversial, the second undeniable.
Arsène Wenger’s side have had an uncomfortable relationship with spot-kicks in recent years. The Spaniard had missed a potentially match-winning effort from 12 yards with the final kick of the game against Fulham a month ago and his opener this afternoon was his side’s first conversion at Emirates Stadium for 17 months.
When Arteta scored his second spot-kick it represented Arsenal’s first two-penalty Premier League game for almost five years.
Still, whatever the method, the scoreline certainly reflected the game this afternoon. Both sides needed a victory but Arsenal did much more to achieve it.
They were the more lively, more inventive and more determined side throughout. West Brom created little and could never sustain any pressure.
The three points catapulted Wenger’s men up to sixth, just behind this afternoon's opponents.
If the manager could have scripted his victory today it would have involved confident attacking play, character and a clean-sheet.
In the end he got all three.
Wenger’s team at Olympiacos in midweek had been designed to rest weary limbs so this afternoon’s side was always going to much-changed. Only Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain retained their places from Greece.
A more pertinent comparison was the team in the defeat to Swansea last Saturday. In those terms, there were three alterations – Olivier Giroud for Lukas Podolski, Bacary Sagna for Carl Jenkinson, and Oxlade-Chamberlain for Theo Walcott.
West Brom had lost to the Welsh side a week earlier and been beaten by Stoke last Saturday. The shine had been taken off the Premier League’s surprise package in the past fortnight. The late loss of the impressive Claudio Yacob did not help their cause.
The start of the game belonged to Arsenal. In the opening minutes, West Brom twice failed to clear a corner from Santi Cazorla and Gervinho scuffed an effort wide of the far post.
The visitors then lost Liam Ridgewell to injury and so Goran Popov came off the bench.
Arsenal were trying to find the early goal that would fire up the smouldering embers of their confidence. Wilshere tore through the midfield but Giroud’s pass was errant then, seconds later, Cazorla fired wide.
In the 15th minute, the Spaniard volleyed over from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pacy cut-back. Had he scored, it would have been a Goal of the Season contender.
After that, Oxlade-Chamberlain had a shot blocked and Gervinho could not weave through.
It was all Arsenal, though midway through the half, they were nearly caught cold when Youssouf Mulumbu won the ball on the edge of the area and Chris Brunt curled a powerful sidefoot shot inches beyond the corner of post and bar.
Ironically enough, the Arsenal opener would follow immediately. Giroud fed Cazorla on the left of the area and, as the Spaniard tried to weave inside, Steven Reid tried to swipe the ball away.
Referee Mike Jones deemed the challenge a foul and, after West Brom protestations had died down, Arteta clipped home the penalty.
It was the first spot-kick Arsenal had converted at Emirates since Robin van Persie’s against Liverpool in April 2011.
The sliding Wilshere was inches away from converting Gervinho’s low cross at the far post. The Ivorian then drew a fine low save from Boaz Myhill.
West Brom claimed a penalty when Per Mertesacker handled but the German had been hauled back by Jonas Olsson.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fly-kick flew just over the bar in the final seconds of the half. After the restart, the young Englishman brushed the bar with an angled shot from Wishere’s cross.
Just before the hour, Gibbs flicked a cross towards Gervinho. The Ivorian, not a natural in the air, slid his header wide.
A few minutes later the same player miskicked in front of goal after Popov’s errant nudge had put him clear eight yards out.
Arsenal were battering on the West Brom door in pursuit of the second. It arrived in the 64th minute when Oxlade-Chamberlain dispossessed Popov and drove into the area. He was upended by Brunt and Arteta dispatched the spot-kick in the same fashion as the first.
The goal drew the fight from West Brom. Oxlade-Chamberlain was having one of his most impressive games of the season and he tried to set up Giroud on a couple of occasions. The Frenchman had been a willing worker this afternoon but he had never got a clear sight of goal.
After Arteta fired a free-kick just wide, Wenger withdrew Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Gervinho. Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky came on.
West Brom had to come forward and, in the final stages, went close from both their substitutes. Markus Rosenberg saw a shot blocked and Romelu Lukaku headed wide.
However the final minutes nearly saw Arsenal extend their lead. Wilshere’s shot was blocked and substitute Lukas Podolski somehow prodded an effort over the bar from close-range.
A crucial, recuperative victory for Wenger’s men.
Referee: Mike Jones
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